• Bridging Differences

    In Bridging Differences
    Deborah exchanges views with a different colleague, each for a month or two.  Her current correspondent is Harry Boyte, a Minnesotan (although his roots are southern). He has always been a friend and mentor, even though we come to stuff in different ways and even disagree on and off. He is a professor and an activist, a theorist and a practitioner, with a focus on democracy—beginning a long time ago when he worked with Martin Luther King. He has written or edited ten books on the topic and founded a Center on
    democracy which is now at St Augsberg College, but formerly at the University of Minnesota.  

  • Where I’ll Be

    Dec 1-3, 2016 Fall Forum Coalition of Essential Schools: Providence, Rhode Island

  • Network for Public Education

  • Good Morning Mission Hill

    For information on showings or purchasing the video Good Morning Mission Hill
  • Central Park East Elementary School

  • Twitter Updates

More Books!

Here is my latest in both some new(ish) books that I want to recommend as well as a few older ones that are still worth reading.

 

artisan

The Artisan Teaching Model,
by Kenneth Baum and Daniel Krulwich

“Explore a powerful and innovative new approach to leadership development within schools. Based on the authors’ success in a South Bronx school, this book merges the idea of teamwork with the concept of an artisan-apprentice relationship. As in any apprenticeship, newer members of the profession work alongside experts (“artisans”). As apprentices become more skilled, they take on larger and more substantial roles and continue to work alongside, and together with, artisans. Over time, the apprentices become artisans themselves and in turn share the art and craft of teaching with newer teachers.”

white

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood—and the rest of y’all too
By Christopher Emdin

“Drawing on his own experience of feeling undervalued and invisible in classrooms as a young man of color and merging his experiences with more than a decade of teaching and researching in urban America, award-winning educator Christopher Emdin offers a new lens on an approach to teaching and learning in urban schools. He begins by taking to task the perception of urban youth of color as unteachable, and he challenges educators to embrace and respect each student’s culture and to reimagine the classroom as a site where roles are reversed and students become the experts in their own learning.”

mismeasuring_our_lives

Mismeasuring Our Lives
by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen ad Jean-Paul Fitoussi

On the problems with using GDP for measuring economic process (which is as biased politically as measuring chidren’s education their teachers effectiveness and the school itself) and offers alternatives.   (Then reread “Mismeasuring Man” on testing.)

 

choicedtime

Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, PreK-2
by Renee Dinnerstein

“In her inspirational, well-researched book, Renée describes the kinds of learning opportunities that all parents want for their own children. Her accessible writing style makes it easy to envision the environment, teaching, and community she describes with such clarity you’ll want to get started on her ideas tomorrow.” —Jennifer Serravallo

And go back and read  Parental Involvement and the Political Principle by Seymour Sarason, as well as his book Productive Learning with Stanislaw Glazek

Also a reminder of a book I recently reviewed here:

Education and the Commercial Mindset
by Samuel Abrams
On keeping the market place and privatization out of public education.

 

Meanwhile, please come up with wonderful ideas to protect the vulnerable and rebuild the Democratic Party.  (Reminder: the Democratic Party got more votes in both the Presidential race and the senatorial races.)

 

Post election thoughts

Dear friends,

I was hoping that if I waited to write until after the election it would be easier to think of what we must do. But….

Maybe it isn’t so different? Clinton would have needed mobilized nudges on a lot of fronts and maybe especially on education. But I am kidding myself if I pretend it is not going to be a lot rougher. What our new president wants is unknowable but given his alliances here’s a guess: a push for privatization in every sphere: health, social security, prisons and schools. An end to abortion rights. A takeover of the courts. Not to mention what cruelty he will inflict on the undocumented, those hoping to escape horrendous circumstances (that we are largely responsible for) and citizens who don’t fit the picture of the “model” “normal” American: White Christians.

Probably.

Of course, egotistically I think this is all my fault because for health reasons I have done so damn little this year on the campaign trail!! I didn’t do much for Bernie or Hillary. Maybe with only one working eye I will be able to focus on the hopeful half. And soon enough my nonworking left eye will almost look like the working right one. The “hopeful” side is the possibility that we can carry out the task we have been working for since I was a young girl. Changing the Democratic Party. My political allies in the 50s and part of the 60s were for creating a Labor Party. So I didn’t vote for any “bourgeois” party etc. until… hmmm. Not sure when I got wiser, or so I think. I voted for the Socialist Party. Maybe it is why I have a harder time than some being mad at those who voted third party last week. It useful to remember the changes we have made in our own viewpoint before counting those who disagree with us as out. And if we had made no changes, that too would be suspicious.

Thoughts on Democracy

Dear friends,

I am back “in business”—I hope. Permanently one-eyed but out of pain.

I am usually out of town before general elections—I have gone to Pennsylvania several times as well as Ohio. I combine visiting friends and electioneering in possible swing states. I would love to be there in Ohio now.

What a terrible election to live through. I was excited by the possibility of voting for someone I was enthusiastic about (Bernie), but I am equally “enthusiastically” against Trump, so I find I can put my whole heart into this anyway. We did miss a great chance—maybe once in a lifetime (mine) of electing someone who is a democratic in the full sense of that word. Many of my allies did not support him even though they agreed with me because they thought since he had no chance in the primary, and certainly not in the general election, it was fruitless effort. Oddly they turned out to probably be wrong on both counts.

What next? I have no idea. Forgive me for rarely being a good prognosticator. Actually on the whole I have anticipated worse rather than better than we got. That’s the good news.

Harry Boyte and I are carrying on an exchange—not a debate—about the meaning of democracy on my Bridging Differences EdWeek blog. There is a range of so-called democracies from outright fraud to a fulsome healthy democracy such as maybe we have never seen on a grand scale. Defining its essence is not easy. An uncompromised democracy on a large scale may even be impossible. It is hard enough in one small school.  Which should not stop us from getting as close as we can in each situation and not falling back on undemocratic means in order to get our ends.

Robert Reich, economist at the U of California, Berkeley has written a neat little book called Saving Capitalism. Actually, I am not for saving it as a system, although some practices that developed as capitalism took over the world are definitely worth preserving. That is because my definition of socialism is a system of democracy—both economic and political and social. There is plenty of room for argument about who should control the “means of production,” where decisions should be made about x, y and z, and who should have the vote (12 year olds? Felons? “foreigners”, etc.). What a fulsome democratic community should look like will take time for “the people” themselves to develop, and it will involve compromises of all sorts. And arguments. The only reasons we need democracy is because we need those arguments, and we need them to matter—count in the real world.

Also—have Isuggested before that you get a copy of The Math Myth by Andrew Hacker. Of course, I see democracy as part of most arguments—including the math wars. Therefore, I would claim that Hacker presents a case for the kind of math schools should be teaching that supports democracy. And I am not for mandating it! More on that another time. Meanwhile it is a fun read.

Keeping Up

Dear friends…and readers all,

I meant to do better in keeping up with my blog. However, this past year has been a difficult one in terms of basic health issues. First, I had a heart valve replacement and now complications from macular degeneration has caused me to be totally blind in the left eye—which also frequently causes pain too.

Otherwise I live in a lucky bubble. My kids and grandkids are all working at something that is either very satisfying or tolerable. And in good health. I am up here in beautiful Columbia County—swimming once or twice a day, at dawn and sunset, when the sun’s rays don’t bother me. I am catching up on piles of stuff I saved to write about. I shall never get to it all, but it is good for thinking about even if I don’t get to write about it all. Writing does help me clarify my own position on things, and this is a time in my life when I am very interested in reexamining my own history and ideas. I am working on a book (when my sight allows) with my friend Emily Gasoi about our school teaching experiences and what has driven us both, including differences in our histories which we account for in part by the differences in our ages (considerable).

I am also trying to find out more about schools that have tried to be internal democracies and how they fared, as well as how they defined democracy ideally and “in practice.”

I am also hoping someone will do a study of what the small school movement in New York City  did and did not accomplish—particularly the self-starters before the Klein regime—those who designed their own schools with their colleagues and sometimes families and students. Most are still around, but in the new centralization in New York City what has happened to them???

Winners get to write the story about the past—too often that means we get a distorted reading. I think we need to tell our stories ourselves – now – so that we can see how we can use past history to make our own new history.

I have not been properly keeping up on new books—by friends even.

So, for now, I will mention just one, that is just about to hit the streets. It is by my friend and colleague Renee Dinnerstein entitled: Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, PreK-2

And, there is a new edition of How Children Learn coming out soon (by John Holt). I am writing a foreword for it. But before you read it reread his first book , How Children Fail. Buy it, borrow it, read it.

More in a few weeks. By then I might have news for you about what’s happening to my dear old Central Park East.

Deb

 

Saving CPE I

garland_logo

Dear friends,

I am frequently asked about the situation at Central Park East I that has recently made the news. Which side am I on, I’m asked.

I am unequivocally on the side of those who wisely have concluded that the current principal must move on. She cannot do the job required. Bringing in someone to “help” her where she is weak is not a solution, but merely a postponing of the inevitable drift into more “standardized” practice and a more hierarchical school structure.

What is needed is an interim solution that helps pull the school together, hire new staff, set the tone and continue to improve the practices and approach that has marked CPE I’s 43 year history.

These include: staff governance, choice for families and staff, strong parental voice and advice, substantial teacher autonomy to develop curriculum, no admissions requirements re academic or social “fitness.” dedicated to serving predominantly low-income students of color, and the belief that a good open, progressive school should be able to serve all children together without separating them by so-called ability—by tracking in any form including social or racial indicators. CPE I’s form of progressivism was, on the spectrum, perhaps more inclined to emphasizing “play”—self-initiated cognitive activity—which often includes physical movement, as well as choice, sustained periods for uninterrupted work, peer collaboration, and demonstration versus standardized testing. Work and Play share common purposes and are, in fact, hard to distinguish. Play is at the heart of serious intellectual work, and observation provides teachers with the best means of support for further growth which rests, in professional jargon, in something called self “agency”.

CPE was dedicated to the task of creating a democratic community of citizens with different roles to play—students playing the role of citizens-to-be in some areas and equal citizens in others. It was based on substantial time set aside for children and their families to meet with their teachers, and open access to classrooms by family members.

It was also based on an agreement between the staff to meet together several hours a week, mostly during the school day, as well as before and after the school year—plus a planning meeting for the fulltime professional staff in mid-winter. If the faculty was responsible for the school’s work it needed time to effectively play such a role—on matters great and small.

For 32 years this process worked—serving largely District 4 families, plus a very small number of District 5 and others. We had a commitment not to seek a waiting list! When we had more applicants than spaces the District agreed to start other schools that worked together with us and had a single application process—thus CPE II and River East. The teacher-directors (and later principals) of these schools were almost always former teachers in the same or similar schools.

We were just three out of what became a District of 50 small schools during that same period, all with far more autonomy than generally found in urban public schools—including the neighborhood schools (only one was closed due to low enrollment in the district) and the new schools of choice.

A few years after we opened the District asked us to add white students to help the District to gain access to Federal integration funds—and to increase District enrollment. We liked the idea and set a kind of informal quota so that we would still remain predominately for low-income minority students. (Before that it was first come, first serve.)

When Jane Andrias left as principal in the early 2000s no one on the staff was prepared to take the job. Over the next 10 yeas, CPE I had 5 different principals, only one of whom had a professional background in any form of progressive education. During this period the school was largely held together by the commitment of its staff and the activism of its devoted families. It often faltered in terms of cohesion, shared time, and support for new teachers. In some ways, while classrooms continued to attract positive attention from parents, university educators and scholars, it lacked what a lead-teacher/principal (the former was the original conception) could do best. It remained the school I happily sent colleagues to visit—including those from Mission Hill, which I started in Boston.

But this fall, after the last short-lived principal retired, it was clear that the newly appointed principal had no background knowledge or experience with elementary, early childhood and/or progressive education, much less functioning in the tradition of collective decision-making and belief that all children—not just privileged children—were well-served by our kind of pedagogy. We had data that proved it had worked for more than 30 years—why all of a sudden was this kind of school not sustainable by a principal who believed in such practices. Rather than wait to critique, the newly appointed principal almost immediately began to make changes in the way the school had practiced open, progressive education.

Many decisions were made without consulting staff from day one through yesterday—on matters that have always been the purview of faculty and parents. Some of it was unavoidable given the circumstances but the practice continued even where emergencies did not require it. It was clear by word and action that the principal believed that she was the boss, the first and final authority. It appeared also, that she saw the kind of play that CPE always engaged in as frivolous and that the flexibility the school was accustomed to regarding rules and regulations were henceforth taboo (we had followed our former Superintendent’s advice to practice “creative compliance”). Above all she made clear that “some” children needed a very different kind of education than the school was accustomed to providing—i.e, Black and low-income children; in short, the very children we had historically served.

For reasons mostly out of the school’s control—the changed demographics of East and Central Harlem (gentrification) and CPE’s disengagement from District Four during the Bloomberg reorganization—the school’s demographics gradually changed during the past ten years. It became a school with a minority of low-income children, although still substantially racially integrated in a city with few such integrated schools. If one included bi-racial families as students of color, CPE has remained about 60% Black, Brown and bi-racial and 40% White and Asian. (About 2/3 of the families of color have signed the petition asking for the removal of the current principal)

To rectify the loss of low-income children the elected parent representatives made efforts to apply for the new Chancellor’s admissions initiative that would enable CPE to set aside spaces for low-income children. The new principal was uninterested. Thus while other progressive schools have applied in order to help them be more economically integrated CPE I has not. Unsurprisingly, by following the “rules” the latest lottery-based Pre-K will be almost entirely White and mostly District 4.

All our early dreams seemed to me unachievable if the mission we began with continued to be undermined—by misinformation or open disagreement. We lasted through many superintendents in District 4 and even more city-wide regimens for a very long time. I tended to despair as I learned more about the situation—including conversations with the new principal and the district superintendent. But committed parents and staff kept “pestering” me and I realized I could not avoid my responsibility to them. I had to take a stand.

We need to find a solution that is fair to the latest principal, who might well be fine in a different setting she is more in tune with, to those parents who agree with her, while also providing the majority of the community with the leadership that will enable the CPE we put so much of our hearts into to be restored. We need to embrace the spirit of democracy that CPE I was intended to demonstrate but which requires an unusual collegial form of leadership to restore, .

That is where I stand.

Deborah Meier
Founding teacher-director of Central Park East

Education and the Commercial Mindset

Education and the Commercial Mindset

mindset

by Samuel E Abrams
Harvard University Press
2016

This is book that you should rush out and buy/read. The author, Samuel E. Abrams is currently the director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Teachers College, Columbia. When I first saw the title and the source, I did not think it would be a book I would be enthusiastic about.

However, I discovered immediately that the author taught for a number of years at NYC’s Beacon High School, which I know and respect. So I decided maybe my biases were unfair. Indeed I was wrong to be wary. Chapter One should be a must for all those who want (or should want) to understand the period we are in and the issues confronting us. If you can’t imagine reading the whole book—start there. Then decide.

Actually every chapter that follows is important including one on charters with a focus on KIPP—which Abrams is more sympathetic to than I am. But like the rest of the book he presents the issues with lots of documentation and data, and he presents KIPP fairly. He covers considerable territory with some historical background on every topic he deals with for those who love it. His final chapters on schooling in other distant lands focuses on the Nordic nations with a lot, of course, on Finland.

I could quibble with this or that, I won’t until after you’ve had a chance to read it.

The books gave me insights that make me realize the task we face here in the United Statesis in some ways harder. Most of the other countries he describes—and in fact most of the nations in the world—are more homogeneous than the United States. In addition, as Abrams reminds us over and over, none of the nations that get compared with us have anywhere close to the inequality in wealth of the USA, nor the degree of poverty. This shocks me over and over again. It is easier to imagine that what you want for your child should be available to all children when you imagine that all children could be yours. The “others” are too foreign—in all senses—for too many Americans. It is easier to create a sense of grievance—an us versus them mindset in the USA. It is easier to believe that some kinds of families don’t deserve to get the best because they will only misuse it, squander it, or it wouldn’t even be good for them—they need something different (and cheaper).

The countries he describes, he argues, have a very strong sense of the communal good and thus have never had as many alternatives to public education for the rich. And, of course, these are all very much smaller countries and don’t face the additional complications that come with being a nation of sub-nations (states). They are built on assumptions of trust and mutual respect which is far less common in our country. Even the voucher system that Sweden adopted (which startled me) is quite another thing in a nation of so much equality and homogeneity. Of course, this actually suggests we need schools to create trust more than they do. We need schools that help build such trust and sense of shared and common good even more than these nations do but of course are too distrustful to do so on the scale needed. Chicken and egg dilemma.

This accounts, perhaps, for why Abrams never discusses the role of schools in the development of democratic norms and habits. He seems to take democracy for granted when discussing the Nordic school tradition, and perhaps also because democracy is so rarely used as a rationale for or against the current reforms.

Among other reasons to read this book is that it is a good read. He writes well, and while you may choose to skip around here and there, now and then, the power of his story will, I think, reach you—and help you the next time you get into an argument on behalf of the reforms you believe in.

Five stars.

The Annenberg Grant: A Lost Opportunity

 

I just recently reread The New York Network for School Renewal: A Proposal to the Annenberg Foundation. This was the early 1990s. It was quite amazing. It was approved not only by the Annenbergs, but by the then Chancellor, Mayor, State Commissioner, Board Chairman, President of the UFT, and three partner school-based organizations with rather varied political and educational agendas. We were ready to launch an experimental district of 50,000 students at its maximum and 150 or so schools with fiscal support for five years (nearly 100 schools were already launched). We had agreed upon freedom from all but a few Board, City, State and Union rules, a plan for documentation by both NYU and Teacher College, both ethnographic and statistical. We committed ourselves to serving a population demographically comparable to the city as a whole.

But it never got off the ground because a new Chancellor vetoed it. We got the money—50 million over 5 years—but not the agreed upon autonomies to learn what we needed to learn.

It was a lost opportunity, but it sent me on my way to Boston to join a much smaller and more modest plan developed by the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools called the Pilot Project. The Pilot Project was fun, modestly successful, and far less well funded. While it has grown it has lost a lot of its promise as attention shifted to a combination of centralized planning, privatization and anti-union media. I had fun starting a Pilot K-8, Mission Hill, school that is still going strong. No regrets about that. You can see Good Morning Mission Hill on my website and on YouTube for some happy moments.

But we lost the moment to make the case for true accontablity—changes that might change everything that needed changing.